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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Three photos of ‘A medley of bridges’

July 14, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

I’ve called this week’s display “A medley of bridges.” Bridges hold an important place in the progression of New York City’s infrastructural history, with the island of Manhattan located at the center of the growing city. Six major bridges now encircle Manhattan. Several smaller ones span the Harlem River, connecting Manhattan to the Bronx.

The first bridge that connected surrounding areas to Manhattan was the Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883. Three more went up from 1903 to 1909, and the last two were built in the 1930s. Three of the six connect Manhattan with Brooklyn, providing both travel convenience and beauty. They are also the only New York bridges that ever provided rail transit. (There are also four tunnels, one linking Manhattan with Brooklyn, one with Queens and two with New Jersey.)

Today’s photos:

The three pictures for today were all taken from approximately the same spot, showing approximately the same scene, but decades apart. They are all classic views from under the Brooklyn Bridge looking at the lower Manhattan skyline. After 1932 the skyline was largely unchanged until the mid 1950s, with the advent of box-like aluminum and glass office towers. The view today shows a lot of those boxes, but the two more stylish tallest buildings from the early 1930s are still visible.

Bridge and skyline, c. 1940

This is the view of lower Manhattan that Brooklynites saw in the years of my father’s most active Brooklyn work, the years I’ve been displaying here in the Eagle. The two tallest buildings, left of center, are 70 Pine Street, closer to the river, and 40 Wall Street, further back. They were the tallest buildings in lower Manhattan until the opening of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in 1970.

The Bank of Manhattan Trust Building was located at 40 Wall Street, later known as the Wall Street Tower. When it opened in 1930, at 283 meters (928 feet) and 71 stories, it was very briefly the tallest building in the world, until the Chrysler Building opened uptown about a month later. (In 1995, 40 Wall Street was bought by Donald Trump and is now called the Trump Building.)

70 Pine Street is an Art Deco tower that was built in 1932. It is 260 meters (853 feet) tall, 290 meters with its antenna. It was the last of the early 20th century skyscrapers built in lower Manhattan.

The Woolworth Building is no doubt better known than either of those others. It opened in 1913 and was the tallest building in the world at 241 meters (792 feet) until the 40 Wall Street building eclipsed it in 1930. The Woolworth Building is mostly obscured in this picture, but its top and some its middle are just visible to the left of the bridge tower.


Bridge and skyline, c. 1970

At first glance, this scene looks almost like the previous one. But not quite. A closer look shows several new buildings, but the clear giveaway is the tall rectangular building dead center in the frame. It is 28 Liberty Street, formerly known as One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Employees of Chase Manhattan Bank moved into their new headquarters in 1961. At 248 meters (813 feet) and 60 stories, it certainly makes a statement, but doesn’t surpass its older neighbors.


Bridge and skyline, September 4, 2017

This is the only color image in this series, and the only one not taken by Irving Kaufman. But it’s still in the family; it was taken by my nephew, Craig, to compare with his grandfather’s earlier versions of the scene. (Thank you Craig!) Happily, our two tall friends at 40 Wall and 70 Pine still proudly display their style above their boxy new neighbors. A couple of other buildings from the 1930s can still be found if you look carefully, but most of the scene is new – especially, of course, 1 World Trade Center, which towers over everything nearby. In fact, it’s the tallest building in the western hemisphere, at 541 meters or (not coincidentally) 1776 feet.

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 11: Photos of ‘A medley of bridges’

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  1. Andrew Porter

    Visible in the first photo, but not subsequently is the 612-foot-high Singer Building, built in 1908 and once the world’s tallest, which has the dubious reputation as the tallest building ever to be torn down—in this case for another building, the Deutsche Bank Building, 130 Liberty Street, heavily damaged in the 9/11 attacks and then itself torn down.

    Many photos and its history can be accessed here:

    Here’s a photo of the Singer Building at its proudest: